The process of and steps involved in finalizing everything surround a funeral and burial are dragging on forever. Our path has seen some very rough patches, but we’ve had some wonderful blessings, too. So, I share our experience in the hope that knowledge can be gained for others going through the same thing or those supporting them.
Caleb’s funeral came together perfectly. I don’t know of a single thing that went wrong. I know my amazing friends stepped up and pulled everything together exactly how we wanted and then some. Tip. Just step in and do. My friend, Jenn, showed up one evening with notebook in hand. She sat me down at the table, asked detailed questions about tables for displaying things, guest book, the program, a potluck, decor, center pieces for the dinner tables, etc. She then took my hands in hers, looked me in the eye, and said she’d take care of it. She made sure I knew that I wasn’t to worry about any of it. I just needed to order the sheet cakes I wanted and get her the photo prints I wanted displayed. She took my requests and ran with them. It was perfect.
Another grief mama whose lovely boy fought a brain tumor for two years got in touch with me before we even left Iowa City. She let me know about a funeral home in our hometown that discounts funeral services for children. Huge financial relief and the director I spoke to was the most kind and caring one I spoke with. At that point in time, it gave me some degree of comfort when people would cry with me. I suppose it was reassuring to know we weren’t the only ones who found the situation indescribably sad. The children’s hospital we had been transferred to gave us information on a local monastery that provides beautiful, hand carved caskets free of charge for infants and children, we just had to pay to have it delivered from 90 minutes away. We saw so many tender mercies and acts of kindness. When we learned that Brig’s employer had cut dependent life insurance benefits in half, those blessings were even greater.
Our next blessing was the cemetery we chose. It’s less than 5 minutes from our home, but not someplace we’d just randomly pass. We only see it when we want to. Rusty, the caretaker, was so kind and patient. He showed us many plots, discussed the pros and cons, and listened to me ramble about Caleb and life. He was compassionate, caring, and had the most gentle demeanor. He helped us pick a plot in the middle of a row that was towards the far end of the cemetery, so we aren’t staring at rows and rows of headstones when we visit. It’s on a lovely hill with train tracks below that run along a beautiful river. On the other side of the river is a park we’d played at. It can all be seen through a part in the trees that line the river. It’s a peaceful, beautiful place.
Then, back in February or March, I decided I should get the ball rolling on picking out a headstone. I didn’t want to think about it at all, but I had been told that it could take 5-6 months to finish, depending on the availability of the stone. So, I shakily walked into the local monument shop and began to look around the showroom at shapes and stone colors. I was so overwhelmed and, looking back, never should have gone alone. I felt like the room was closing in around me and the granite would crush me.
After what seemed like forever, an employee finished with someone else and approached me. He asked what I was looking for and I could barely get out the words as tears welled up in my eyes. He immediately started showing me tiny stones meant for babies with cherubs and such on them. I stopped him and said my son was a toddler and in a full-sized plot. So, he went right to the full-sized stones, upselling me the entire time. Not a bit of compassion. Not a hint of sadness. He didn’t ask anything about Caleb. He never once offered condolences in any way. I told him our general idea and he priced the base price out at just under $6,000. $6K for an 18×12 upright stone with writing on one side. I want a picture of him on it? Oh, that’ll be at least another $1,000. An etched football and baseball? More $$. Writing on the backside? That’ll start at around $400 and go up per character.
I left feeling physically ill and never wanted to return to another monument store again. I even told Brig he’d have to take care of it. I’d send him with the sketches, but I couldn’t be treated like that, talk about him like that. Brig didn’t feel comfortable dealing with it anymore than I did. Then, a couple of months later, my dad suggesting I just talk to his cousin in Missouri who owns a funeral home. What a tremendous blessing that turned out to be! His stone was ordered in July and the design was finalized in August. For an 8 hour drive to visit with family and get the stone, we’ll be able to pick up a larger, more beautiful stone, with all the pictures and etching we wanted for less than 1/3 the originally quoted price. It’ll all be done by the end of the month. Blessing again!
That just left getting the foundation done and the monument set. The only recommendation I had was for the person in charge of setting for the company in town I’d spoke with last March. It turned out to be the same guy. I could feel the hair on my neck stand up last week as I spoke with him. It was obvious he wasn’t happy that we didn’t purchase from him. He coldly took the dimensions and said he’d get me a quote when he found the time. So, I received the email yesterday quoting $700. $700 to put in a little concrete and bolt granite together! I cried. I began to feel defeated and discouraged all over again. Then, I got mad. Really, it was more than mad. I called Brig, just fuming, and he shared in his disgust at the way some companies take advantage of families when they know they don’t have many other options.
So, yesterday and today, it was Google to the rescue. My faith has been restored in the goodness of people who work in that industry and I can’t recommend the people I’ve received quotes from enough. It kind of made me wish I’d given them a chance back in the spring because I like supporting local business owners, but it’ll be wonderful to see family.
My mentally and emotionally day today was capped with a phone call from Rusty, our cemetery caregiver. He was returning my call to discuss dimensions and such for Caleb’s site. He listened to me vent about getting the headstone and commiserated with me on how awful people can be sometimes. I then remembered to ask him about the plots next to Caleb. I recalled him mentioning that they were available when we bought Bub’s, but we weren’t in a financial or mental position to make the decision to buy them then. I felt my heart quicken when I asked about those spots and I feared not being able to be buried next to my lovie. I then heard these words, “Oh, Jenelle, I’ve had those plots on hold in your names since you picked Caleb’s plot. I’ve seen far too many young couples facing this terrible situation over the years and they’re rarely in a position to decide on purchasing extra plots. So, I just hold them for several years and if I don’t hear from them in 10 years or so, I assume ‘no’ was their final decision. However, I’d like to retire before I’m ready for the cemetery myself, so I’m done here in April. I can’t guarantee they’ll be held much longer after that, but they’re still yours for as long as I’m here. Just let me know when you’re ready.”
I only had tears at that point. We’ve had our rough patches, but so many blessings as well. Please, remember that this experience is so much more than the death itself. The repercussions last a lifetime. There are days where soldiering on isn’t an option. Sometimes, as someone recently shared with me, being strong is knowing when to let go, crumble a bit, and letting it happen. I may have a crumb trail, but I’m still putting one foot in front of the other.